The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dec. 31: She runs in joy, the child in the picture. Like drops of sunshine, crumbs of a biscuit hang from her lips stretched by a widening smile. Four biscuits are clutched between her tiny fingers in one hand and a half-bitten one peers out of another. Having lost home, certainly ' perhaps, family members, too ' the little girl at a relief centre at Cuddalore lights up the world around.

Someone has reached a few biscuits to her.

With a toll that is swelling beyond 125,000, the Christmas Day-after disaster is demanding of the world a relief effort it has never mounted before. And the world is responding as never before. Shaken by the extent of devastation or bleeding from guilt that the New Year's eve parties ' though muted ' haven't quite stopped or both.

'I was thinking what to convey as New Year greeting to you for the year 2005 against the background of the events that have taken place recently in 2004,' President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said.

Many Indians, practised to wish when a year turns, are wondering how to say Happy New Year' It's not as if cellphone lines are not getting jammed this December 31 night, but so are collection boxes.

Nothing symbolised the Indian, or the donor, dilemma more than drop boxes at a shopping mall in Calcutta. 'In the first three hours, we collected Rs 30,000,' said a spokesman for the mall.

Even a few dollar bills made their way into the collection boxes. Footfalls of shoppers in Mumbai or Delhi are no less than they were before Sunday's tsunami.

'There has been no perceptible difference in the footfalls this festive season compared to last year,' said Crossroads, a huge shopping complex at Haji Ali, Mumbai. 'We have registered 30,000-35,000 footfalls on an average.'

But the feet are halting when a school student holds a box out ' in Amritsar or Calcutta, where members of the Interact Club of La Martiniere school took up a collection at a shopping mall today.

Ingrid Srinath, the head of CRY, a non-government organisation now involved in relief work in Tamil Nadu, said the response is overwhelming.

If an indigent in Bengal donated Rs 47, the army has come up with a collection of Rs 30 crore, each member of the forces donating a day's salary.

Charity has traditionally begun in the government sector in times of calamity, but private business is not behind. Anil Ambani famously announced a contribution of Rs 1 crore before entering the Reliance boardroom for an eventful meeting. Reliance employees are backing it up by forgoing a day's salary.

'We have always been quiet about our charitable work,' said a senior official of the Tata group, which has a tradition of service in natural disasters. Tata Relief Fund is spearheading the group's relief operations.

Tata companies cancelled their New Year's Eve parties in Jamshedpur. It's not an isolated instance. Some companies that had planned year-end celebrations in places like Goa have called them off.

It's the season of giving, said Vidyanand Jha, professor of behavioural science, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

'This is the time people are out having fun. In such a mood, when the media flash images of suffering, it could have more of an effect than it would otherwise,' he added.

The images have made a difference, agreed Rakesh Sharma, maker of the acclaimed documentary Final Solution. 'In case of the Gujarat earthquake, the images from Kutch took time to come. But here, because it also happened on such a widespread terrain, the TV images were several and were played instantly.'

Led by Sunjay Dutt, image-conscious Bollywood is planning to do a Bob Geldof, the singer who organised Live Aid to raise funds for Africa. Dutt is promising the biggest-ever moviedom concert.

Viren Shah, who owns the store Roopam, famous for year-end theme bashes, has dropped his 'Smooch smooch hota hai party (a spoof on the Kareena-Shahid incident)'.

Many have decided to embrace the New Year in the warmth of homes. 'We normally do not have a heavy rush on New Year's Eve as most rich clients prefer to book halls in hotels. But since their parties will get noticed this year, they are flooding us with requests for catering in the confines of their homes,' said a spokesman for Commando Caterers, of Chandigarh.

All this restraint could be a result of the 'it-could-have-happened-to-me' factor.

'This is a disaster on a scale that no one has seen before. It is (also) something that could have happened to everyone,' said Anuradha Kapoor, director of Swayam, an NGO.

'We could have been holidaying on one of the beaches,' added Sharma.

Just as there is the fisherman's village in Tamil Nadu, there is Phuket or some other Thai resort ' all pictures of the same devastation.

Tsunamis know no barriers. But nor does the child breaking out into a joyful run ' Happy New Year, Biscuit Girl.

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